Don’t tread on the First Amendment

It’s time to reread the First Amendment in our Bill of Rights:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peacably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

During the past week, comments were made regarding protesters using their right to assemble, to protest, to use their right to free speech.

Protests across the nation have sprung up in opposition to President-elect Donald Trump. Trump won the election – he didn’t win a majority of the votes – thanks to the United States’ electoral college which chooses the winner of the Presidency.

But the electoral college system has made some citizens angry or feel disenfranchised.

Protests sprang up all across the nation – from New York to Los Angeles to Washington D.C.

Locally, in Austin, even the mayor joined in.

Citizens who disagree with the protesters have yelled “get a job” at protesters, who don’t want Trump as their President.

Residents who agree with the protesters might even think, “Let’s just move on and see what happens.”

Regardless of whether you are for or against these protesters or Trump, it is important to remember that these people have the right to protest, to peacably assemble, to march.

Sure, there have been a smattering of violent actions and breaking of windows, but the vast majority of protesters are walking and chanting, letting off steam.

Why be so wary, though, about Trump and the First Amendment? 

Because Mr. Trump has said that these are “professional protesters.” Because Trump has already taken the first step toward having nothing to do with the press. His first official action, meeting with President Obama in the White House, was a sign. Trump did not allow any press at the event, even though in years past the press has been invited along.

Trump said during the election that he will prosecute journalists who write “falsehoods.” He didn’t allow journalists to be a part of his campaign pool, typical of a presidential election. And, he called out journalists in particular if he didn’t like what they wrote.

Trump needs to remember that we already have a law taking care of printing of falsehoods –it’s called libel. Newspapers already are very careful when it comes to libel. This newspaper has not printed letters when certain facts cannot be proven. 

However, almost all letters meet the newspaper’s standard and are printed – whether for or against a candidate, an idea or a governmental entity.

But if Mr. Trump is going to start picking on journalists, then the next step is private citizens.

What sets the United States apart from most of the rest of the world is our First Amendment, giving us free speech, free press, freedom to assemble and freedom of religion.

We have to protect this right at all costs.

Whether you agree with journalists or not, you have to understand that trained journalists – not necessarily those who claim to be journalists because they write online – take law classes in regards to libel. They study who can be written about – and in what manner. They know the difference between a public figure, which Mr. Trump has been for many years as he puts himself in the limelight, and a private citizen, the one who stands on the sidelines or simply speaks up at a city council meeting.

Journalists protect the First Amendment because it is their livelihood.

They know it makes this country great. 

You don’t need to add “again.” Because journalists already know that.

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